Presented on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in The Barn at Quarry Farm. Hoi Na Kung is currently a third-year doctorate student in the English department at Indiana University, where she specializes in 19th and 20th century American literature with an emphasis on critical race studies and gender studies. She is currently working on a project exploring representations of sensory experiences in African American and Asian American literature written in the age of globalization.
Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court abounds with comical descriptions that liken its central female character, Sandy, to an industrial machine with infinite labor power. This lecture will suggest that this novel’s peculiar automatization of Sandy gestures towards a 19th century cultural ambivalence about technology. On one hand, technology promised a “rational” order of life with an emphasis on the maximization of productivity and profit. On the other hand, technology threatened a disturbance of social order: mechanization of the workplace allowed women to leave the household for the workplace en masse, generating anxiety about women exchanging biological reproduction for industrial reproduction of commodities. Departing from much of the literary criticism that interprets Twain’s technologized modernity as a tragedy, this lecture will argue that Twain’s novel employs the figure of the mechanical woman in order to foreground both the sense of increased freedom and unfreedom for both men and women opened up by a technologized modernity.